Making Justice: A Multimethod Qualitative Study of Activist Identity Formation and Political Imagination(s) Among Black Adolescents

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Scott, Edward, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, CU-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Smith, Chauncey, University of Virginia

Black adolescents have been critical to social progress in the United States since the United States’ inception, yet there are few studies that focus on the lived experiences of those youths and those experiences’ contributions to Black youths’ political engagement. The purpose of this study is to deepen our understanding of how the life experiences of Black adolescents in the United States contribute to their activist identity formation and political imagination. The study used narrative interview data from 10 Black adolescents, ages 13-18, who had a history of activism. Narrative Identity Theory and Sociopolitical Development Theory were integrated to inform the organizing framework: Past-Present-Possible. The organizing framework corresponds with the three primary research questions, which were: (1) What life experiences contribute to the formation of an activist identity among Black adolescents? (2) How do Black adolescent activists perceive the current sociopolitical conditions in the United States? (3) What do Black adolescent activists imagine for the political future? Findings from this study detail the constellation of factors that contribute to the formation of an activist identity among Black adolescents in the United States and inform their political perspectives. Findings particularly highlight the role of community organizing units, Black families, and peer networks in providing the skills, educational enrichment, cultural knowledge, and social-emotional support needed for the Black adolescents to sustain their political engagement. Implications for Black families, youth workers, mental health professionals, and future research are discussed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Adolescence, Black Adolescents, Identity, Imagination, Social Change, Youth Activism, Narrative Inquiry
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